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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 16

 

 

Verses 1-3

Details Of The Commencement Of Ahaz’s reign And His Behaviour And Actions In The Eyes Of YHWH (2 Kings 16:1-3).

Ahaz was twenty years old when he commenced his co-regency with his father, and his sole reign ‘in Jerusalem’ lasted for sixteen years. As his co-regency with his father was for about eight years he would die at around forty four years old. Hezekiah was twenty five years old when Ahaz died (2 Kings 18:2). Thus on this basis Ahaz would have been about nineteen years old when he begat Hezekiah.

But as a result of the momentous choice that he made when he rejected YHWH’s offer to see him safely through all difficulties, he sank into spiritual degradation and behaved like the kings of Israel, and even worse, for in the extremity of his need and despair he introduced child sacrifice into Judah

2 Kings 16:1

‘In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah Ahaz the son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign.

Ahaz the son of Jotham of Judah commenced his sole reign in the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah. This was the seventeenth year of Pekah commencing from his becoming deputy and co-regent (or rival ruler) to Pekahiah in Gilead.

The full name of Ahaz was Jeho-ahaz. It may be that his behaviour was seen as so abominable that the name of YHWH was dropped from his name. In an Assyrian list of kings who paid tribute to Assyria he was named as Ya-u-ha-zi of Ya-u-da-aia. But it may even be that Ahaz chose to drop the name of YHWH from his name himself when he became an apostate. The discovery of a seal bearing the inscription, ‘Ashan, official of Ahaz’ would appear to confirm the use of the shorter name officially.

2 Kings 16:2

‘Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem.’

When Ahaz became co-regent to his father he was twenty years old, the co-regency lasted the length of his father’s sole reign (eight years), thus he began his sole reign at twenty eight years old and reigned ‘in Jerusalem’ (i.e. as sole Davidic ruler) for sixteen years. The name of the queen mother is not given. That may be because she had already died when this was first recorded.

2 Kings 16:2

-4 ‘And he did not do what was right in the eyes of YHWH his God, like David his father, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yes, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations, whom YHWH cast out from before the children of Israel, and he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.’

Apart from when under the influence of the house of Ahab, the kings of Judah since the days of Asa had ‘done what was right in the eyes of YHWH’ even though they had not sufficiently clamped down on the illegitimate high places which had proliferated in the days of Rehoboam (1 Kings 15:23). But now Ahaz did a full turn about and became more evil than all who had gone before him in either Judah or Israel. There were two reasons for this. The first was the political necessity that resulted from his submission to the king of Assyria. The second was as a result of his own reaction to his refusal to respond to YHWH when he rejected YHWH’s almost incredible offer to give him any sign that he wanted in heaven or earth so that he might stand firm in his trust in YHWH in the face of all opposition (Isaiah 7:11). It was inevitable that having made such a rejection he would seek refuge elsewhere, in other words in polytheism.

Note the unique way in which this is put in order to bring out the contrast between his behaviour and that of his ‘father’ David, and even between his behaviour and that of the kings of Judah who had done evil in the sight of YHWH (Solomon - 1 Kings 11:4-6; Jehoram - 2 Kings 8:18; Ahaziah - 2 Kings 8:27). ‘He DID NOT do what was right in the eyes of YHWH.’ Rather he went to the other extreme, behaving like the kings of Israel, and going even further into degradation than them, for he not only offered worship to Baal, but he engaged in child sacrifice, probably by way of the worship of Melek (Molech - which is Melek with the vowels altered by being replaced with the vowels of ‘bosheth’ = ‘shame’) the god of the Ammonites whose worship had spread wider than Ammon.

The only other incidence of child sacrifice that we have previously come across was that which took place when the king of Moab, in extreme desperation, offered up his son on the walls of Kir-har-a-seth, an incident of such abomination that it caused the forces of Israel, Judah and Edom to withdraw in horror (2 Kings 3:27). Later the practise would become more prevalent in Judah (see 2 Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Kings 23:10; Micah 6:7; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5 - ‘to burn their sons as burnt offerings to Baal’; 2 Kings 23:10 - ‘to Molech’; etc). It was primarily carried out in the valley of Hinnom which finally became the rubbish dump of Jerusalem. This was seen as the greatest depth of evil to which a man could sink.

Thus Ahaz’s evil is emphasised in three ways:

· Firstly he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, both in their full worship of Baal, and in their ignoring of the covenant of YHWH..

· Secondly he made his sons to pass through the fire according to the abomination of the nations whom YHWH cast out from before the children of Israel. Jeremiah 19:5 makes clear that this refers to child sacrifice, although it must be recognised that child sacrifice had not been common among the Canaanites. It was something indulged in (apart from in the case of the half savage Ammonites) only in extreme circumstances. This illustrates the extremeness of Ahaz’s desperation as a result of his rejection of YHWH.

· Thirdly he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills and under every green tree. This had become common practise among many in Judah in the time of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:23) following on the example of Solomon in his later years, and had never been properly stamped out even by kings who did ‘right in the eyes of YHWH’. But now the king was indulging in it himself. The hills were seen as being nearer to the abode of the gods, and as even being such. The spreading green trees were seen as containing ‘divine’ life, in other words, animism.


Verses 1-20

The Reign Of Ahaz King Of Judah c. 732/1-716/15 BC. Co-regent from 744/43 BC.

Ahaz came to the throne of Judah as sole ruler at a crucial time in Judah’s history. Never before in that history had they faced the challenge of becoming permanently subservient to a large Empire whose requirements would include the placing of their gods in the Temple of YHWH. But as Ahaz faced up to the invasion of Judah by Israel and Aram, who were seeking to depose him and set up a puppet king, probably because of Jotham and Ahaz’s refusal to join in an alliance with them against Assyria, he found himself in a great quandary. As the son of David should he look to YHWH alone for protection, and trust Him for deliverance, or should he bastardise that sonship and submit to the king of Assyria as his ‘father’, and call on his assistance, with the inevitable result that he would become his vassal, along with all the consequences that would follow from that?

Isaiah the prophet assured him that he should look to YHWH alone, and so huge and difficult did YHWH see the decision to be that He offered to do for Ahaz, as the scion of the house of David, literally anything at all that he requested as a sign that He, YHWH, was totally reliable, was quite able to deliver him from all his enemies, and would prove Himself worthy of his trust (Isaiah 7:11). YHWH wanted him to remain totally independent, and promised deliverance on that basis. But Ahaz did not feel that YHWH was trustworthy, and the result was that instead of maintaining the honour of the house of David by holding to the Davidic covenant and to YHWH as his Father and Overlord he submitted to the king of Assyria as his father and overlord. It was the low point in Judah’s history. YHWH had finally been rejected as King over His people, and as Father to the sons of David. But equally as momentous as the initial option was the consequence, for YHWH informed Ahaz that because of the choice that he had made the coming promised future king would not be descended from Ahaz, whose house had been rejected. Rather He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). And Ahaz was to see that as a sign, not of YHWH’s continued favour, but of the fact that he was now totally rejected. The offer was no longer open.

The somewhat inevitable further result of Ahaz’s decision to reject YHWH to His face was that he reacted to it by sinking into spiritual degradation. In the desperation and spiritual bankruptcy that resulted from his decision he threw himself into the lowest forms of Canaanite worship, by indulging in child sacrifice, and entering fully into the debased worship of the worst of the high places. Having despised YHWH and been rejected by Him he had totally lost his way spiritually. It was not therefore surprising that he also yielded the Temple to the gods of Assyria. By becoming a vassal of the king of Assyria (and of the gods of Assyria) he had to some extent made that inevitable, but as the author reveals he went far beyond what was required, and thrust YHWH right into the background in His own Temple, replacing the Temple paraphernalia with some patterned on a model which had impressed him in Damascus (probably one brought from Assyria, accompanying the king of Assyria) and turned the true altar of YHWH into a private source of divination.

In his own way the prophetic author is bringing out the same thing as Isaiah had emphasised. That Ahaz was withdrawing from his position as son of David, and ‘son’ of YHWH (Psalms 2:7), and was becoming the ‘son’ of the king of Assyria, replacing the covenant with YHWH by one of a covenant with the gods of Assyria and their king. He had become a total reprobate.

The literary construction of this passage is more complicated than usual. It commences and ends with the usual opening and closing formulae which form an inclusio, but the inner core is composed of three different subsections dealing with different aspects of Ahaz’s life. The overall analysis is thus as follows:

Overall Analysis.

a Details of the commencement of his reign (2 Kings 16:1-2).

b His behaviour and actions in the eyes of YHWH (2 Kings 16:3).

c The invasion of Judah by Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel. Judah is despoiled (2 Kings 16:4-6).

d The submission of Ahaz to Tiglath Pileser in Damascus (2 Kings 16:7-11).

c The subsequent bastardisation of the Temple resulting from that submission. The Temple is despoiled (2 Kings 16:12-18).

b Ahaz’s further actions to be found in the official annals of the kings of Judah (2 Kings 16:19).

a Details of the cessation of his reign (2 Kings 16:20).


Verses 4-6

The Invasion Of Judah By Rezin King Of Aram And Pekah King Of Israel. Judah Is Despoiled (2 Kings 16:4-6).

The gathering threat from Israel and Aram to replace first Jotham, and then after his death Ahaz, with an Aramaean puppet who was ‘the son of Tabeel’ (Isaiah 7:6) became a full reality in the time of Ahaz. The combined forces of Aram and Israel advanced on Jerusalem, wasting the land before them and slaughtering many people, although not necessarily taking all the fortified cities of Judah (it was not an attempt to totally subjugate Judah). But in spite of being besieged Jerusalem did not yield, and they could not overcome it. At the same time an Aramaean army went to the aid of Edom, who were part of their alliance, and freed Elath from the grasp of Judah.

Ahaz recognised that he was in desperate straits, and as the Book of Isaiah reveals, he was torn three ways. Some called on him to join the anti-Assyrian alliance with Aram and Israel, others called on him to submit to the king of Assyria as his vassal thus obtaining his aid, and still others, no doubt partly influenced by Isaiah, called on him to look to YHWH alone for help. The full story can be found in Isaiah 7 onwards (see our commentary). But Ahaz, in spite of an unprecedented offer from YHWH, would choose to submit himself to the king of Assyria and therefore sent messengers offering his submission, promising tribute, and calling for his assistance.

Analysis.

a Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war, and they besieged Ahaz (2 Kings 16:5 a).

b But they were unable to fight (2 Kings 16:5 b).

a At that time Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath for Aram, and drove the Jews from Elath, and the Aramaeans came to Elath, and dwelt there, to this day (2 Kings 16:6).

Note that in ‘a’ Jerusalem was besieged, and in the parallel Elath was taken and occupied from then on. Centrally in ‘b’ the enemy could not overcome Ahaz, because at this stage YHWH was with him, as Isaiah makes clear.

2 Kings 16:5

‘Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war, and they besieged Ahaz.’

Apart from aid given to the Edomites, possibly as part of the package in which they supported the Aramaeans in their war against Judah, the full force of Aram and Israel advanced on Jerusalem, slaying and spoiling as they went, and shutting up many Judaeans in their fortified cities. The aim was not so much to occupy Judah as to set on the throne of Judah a puppet king. We know from Isaiah that this intended king was ‘the son of Tabeel’. This sonship may have been through a daughter of Ahaz married to an Aramaean named Tabeel, or Tabeel may have been the grandfather, whose daughter had married a son of Jotham or Uzziah, who could thus be seen as having a partial claim to the throne. The name might indicate an alliance with an Aramaean princess connected to Beth Tab’el, a place known from contemporary Aramaean inscriptions as an Aramaean land in northern Transjordan. The result was that Jerusalem found itself under siege.

2 Kings 16:5

‘And they were unable to fight.’

One way of seeing this is to take it as meaning that Israel and Aram were unable to fight because they could not breach the walls of Jerusalem or entice Judah out to fight. Alternatively it could signify that Ahaz and Judah found themselves unable to fight. Either is possible, but the fact that Ahaz was able to appeal to the king of Assyria must favour the former. What cannot be avoided is the thought of what Judah had suffered because Ahaz had turned down YHWH’s offer of protection. Many Judaeans not enjoying the protection of the walls of Jerusalem had been carried captive to Damascus and Samaria, and there had been great slaughter (2 Chronicles 28:5-8).

2 Kings 16:6

‘At that time Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath for Aram, and drove the Jews from Elath, and the Edomites came to Elath, and dwelt there, to this day.’

At the same time as they besieged Jerusalem Rezin the king of Aram sent an army to Edom where he assisted the Edomites in recovering Elath which had so long been under the control of Judah (2 Kings 14:22). The Aramaeans appear to have had close connections with Edom and with the other Transjordan tribes, and were regularly involved in assisting them. See 2 Samuel 8:13; Isaiah 17:2 (where Aroer is probably the Aroer in southern Transjordan) and consider the assistance that they gave to the Ammonites (2 Samuel 10). While it is true that the Hebrew consonants for Edom and Aram were very similar, we should always remember that the copyists had regularly previously heard the text being read out and would thus not have been easily deceived by the similarity in an uncertain text. Note the use of the term ‘Jews’ for the first time, here referring to the people of Judah.

Excavations at Ezion Geber revealed a seal of Jotham in one layer followed by the discovery of jars with ‘belonging to Qausanal’ in the next layer. Qaus was the national god of Edom, thus confirming the situation described above. Aram and Edom were close allies.

The author is thus bringing out that while YHWH had not totally destroyed Ahaz, He had afflicted him sorely. Such was the consequence of rejecting YHWH.


Verses 7-11

The Appeal Of Ahaz To Tiglath-pileser III, King Of Assyria, And His Total Submission To Him In Both Word And Behaviour (2 Kings 16:7-11).

Having expressed his unwillingness to rely on YHWH Ahaz had no alternative but to turn to the King of Assyria as the only one powerful enough to help him. As the servant and ‘son’ of YHWH he should, of course, have looked to YHWH. But instead he voluntarily transferred his loyalty to Tiglath-pileser and the gods of Assyria. He thereby ceased to be YHWH’s servant and son, openly confessing himself as the servant and son of the king of Assyria, and thus forfeited any claim on the Davidic covenant. While his appeal was outwardly successful it was at great cost. Judah lost its independence and became a vassal state of Assyria, all its treasures were transferred to the Assyrian treasury, and Judah had to introduce into YHWH’s Temple symbols of the god of Assyria who would have to be paid due honour, at least by the king and his leading courtiers.

a And Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son, come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me (2 Kings 16:7).

b And Ahaz took the silver and gold which was found in the house of YHWH, and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria (2 Kings 16:8).

c And the king of Assyria listened to him, and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried its people captive to Kir, and slew Rezin (2 Kings 16:9).

b And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and saw the altar which was at Damascus, and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all its workmanship (2 Kings 16:10).

a And Urijah the priest built an altar, according to all that king Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so did Urijah the priest make it against the coming of king Ahaz from Damascus (2 Kings 16:11).

Note that in ‘a’ Ahaz surrendered his position as son of David and ‘son’ of YHWH in favour of being the ‘son’ of the king of Assyria (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7), and in the parallel he surrendered the Temple, either to the kings and gods of Assyria, or to the gods of Aram (2 Chronicles 28:22-23). In ‘b’ Ahaz sent a present to the king of Assyria as an act of submission, and in the parallel he himself submitted to the king of Assyria. Centrally in ‘c’ the king of Assyria dealt with Aram on his behalf.

2 Kings 16:7

‘And Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son, come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me.’

This abject message from Ahaz to Tiglath-pileser finally confirmed his refusal to look to YHWH for help. Instead of pleading with YHWH on the basis of his sonship (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7) and as ‘the son of David’ (on the basis of the Davidic covenant), he submitted to Tiglath-pileser by describing himself as his ‘servant and son’. In the passage Tiglath-pileser is only named here and in 2 Kings 16:10 where Ahaz made his personal submission, otherwise he is ‘the king of Assyria. This emphasises the personal nature of his submission in this letter. There is here a clear transfer of his loyalty from YHWH to the king and gods of Assyria. And it is to Tiglath-pileser that he appeals as his saviour (‘save me’ - compare 2 Kings 13:5) against the kings of Aram and Israel who are attacking him.

Communications between kings by means of letters sent by the hands of messengers are well attested at this time, especially with regard to Assyria.

This submission may well have been made while he was co-regent but in total control because his father, who died at a relatively young age, was ailing According to an Assyrian eponym list Damascus fell in around 732 BC, which was around the time when Ahaz became sole ruler of Judah. Thus his appeal to Assyria must have taken place prior to this, as is confirmed by an Assyrian record of his paying tribute to Tiglath-pileser along with some of Judah’s neighbours (which do, however, exclude Israel and Aram).

2 Kings 16:8

‘And Ahaz took the silver and gold which was found in the house of YHWH, and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria.’

But it cost Judah dearly, for once again the treasury of Judah was emptied, something which to the author was a constant sign of YHWH’s displeasure. Compare 2 Kings 12:18; 2 Kings 14:14; 2 Kings 18:15; 2 Kings 24:13; 1 Kings 14:6; 1 Kings 15:18. Officially it was given as a ‘present’ because it had not been demanded but the king of Assyria would see it as tribute, and as an indication of vassalship. Note how the Temple treasury is regularly paralleled with the treasury in the king’s palace. The emphasis is on the emptying of the treasury, not on the Temple.

2 Kings 16:9

‘And the king of Assyria listened to him, and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried its people captive to Kir, and slew Rezin.’

The king of Assyria responded to his request, probably by continuing to do what he had already intended to do. This verse is very much a summary of that response. He had in fact firstly invaded Philistia as far as the borders of Egypt, then he turned back and invaded Israel, with Pekah being replaced by Hoshea, an exchange which saved Israel from final destruction, and finally he crushed Aram, killing Rezin, and carrying the cream of the people of Aram captive to Kir (in Elam - Isaiah 22:5-6). The process took some time, but it relieved the pressure on Jerusalem.

2 Kings 16:10

‘And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and saw the altar which was at Damascus, and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all its workmanship.’

As a result of his appeal king Ahaz then had to go to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser in person and make his submission. Such a submission would confirm his vassalship, and would inevitably result in Assyrian gods being required to be introduced into the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus the altar that Ahaz saw in Damascus may have been an Aramaean one, now ‘converted’ to being an altar used for the worship of the Assyrian gods (Damascus had been incorporated within an Assyrian province under Assyrian governors), or it may have been an Assyrian one introduced into Damascus by the victorious king of Assyria. Either way it was the one of which he was required to introduce a copy into the Temple, for part of his obligations under his vassalship would be to introduce an altar, and probably an image, into the Temple as bidden by the king of Assyria, in order that Assyrian gods might be worshipped there, alongside the national God. This would be an acknowledgement of the superiority of the Assyrian gods who had given Assyria dominance over Judah. And presumably the one that he was required to introduce was the one of which he sent details to Urijah the priest. By this means Ahaz had voluntarily brought himself into covenant with Assyria and its gods, and had accepted the king of Assyria as his overlord and ‘father’ thus demoting YHWH. He had forfeited the possibility of any help from YHWH.

2 Kings 16:11

‘And Urijah the priest built an altar, according to all that king Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so did Urijah the priest make it against the coming of king Ahaz from Damascus.’

Having received his instructions Urijah ‘the Priest’ did what was required of him, and built an altar in accordance with Ahaz’s specifications, ready for when the king returned. The Temple takeover was in process. In Isaiah 2 Urijah is mentioned as a reliable witness to Isaiah’s ‘advertisement’ concerning the name of his son, but not necessarily as in favour of Isaiah’s position. Here he is depicted as meekly submitting to what he knew to be wrong. (Isaiah would not have done it).


Verses 12-18

The Subsequent Bastardisation Of The Temple Resulting From Ahaz’s Submission. The Temple Is Despoiled (2 Kings 16:12-18).

What followed was unquestionably a bastardisation of the Temple. The ‘true’ altar of YHWH was replaced with one based on a foreign pattern, and the offerings made on that altar would partly be to the gods of Assyria and partly to YHWH (possibly often both at the same time in the eyes of different worshippers). The Temple had thus become similar to the syncretistic sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel. This was further confirmed by the fact that the Temple ceased to be the royal chapel, with the special passageway leading from the palace to the Temple being closed, in recognition of the new situation whereby the Temple was now under the sovereignty of Assyria. Furthermore, the altar of YHWH became Ahaz’s own altar for the purposes of divination, and all signs of the special relationship of YHWH with Judah, indicating His rule over the twelve tribes, such as the twelve oxen under the moulten sea, and the lions, oxen and cherubim on the plates covering the laver stands, were removed. Judah was now to be seen as wholly subservient to Assyria in both its worship and its rule. It was not that the Assyrians sought to interfere with the local gods of their vassals, they simply required that the gods of Assyria be acknowledged as well, and that Assyria be pre-eminent. But Ahaz took it further than required.

Analysis.

a And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar, and the king drew near to the altar, and offered on it. And he burnt his burnt-offering and his meal-offering, and poured his drink-offering, and sprinkled the blood of his peace-offerings, on the altar (2 Kings 16:13).

b And the bronze altar, which was before YHWH, he brought from the forefront of the house, from between his altar and the house of YHWH, and put it on the north side of his altar (2 Kings 16:14).

c And king Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, “On the great altar burn the morning burnt-offering, and the evening meal-offering, and the king’s burnt-offering, and his meal-offering, with the burnt-offering of all the people of the land, and their meal-offering, and their drink-offerings, and sprinkle on it all the blood of the burnt-offering, and all the blood of the sacrifice” (2 Kings 16:15 a).

b And the bronze altar will be for me to enquire by. Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that king Ahaz commanded (2 Kings 16:15-16).

a And king Ahaz cut off the panels of the bases, and removed the laver from off them, and took down the sea from off the bronze oxen which were under it, and put it on a pavement of stone , and the covered way for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king’s entry outside, he turned to the house of YHWH, because of the king of Assyria (2 Kings 16:17-18).

Note that in ‘a’ the new altar was dedicated by the king to the service of Assyria, and in the parallel the old signs of Judah’s independence were removed. In ‘b’ the bronze altar was sidelined, and in the parallel it became Ahaz’s altar of divination. Centrally in ‘c’ all worship was conducted on the new foreign great altar.

2 Kings 16:12-13

‘And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar, and the king drew near to the altar, and offered on it. And he burnt his burnt-offering and his meal-offering, and poured his drink-offering, and sprinkled the blood of his peace-offerings, on the altar.’

Once the king returned from Damascus he dedicated the new high altar (the fact that this was a dedication is evidenced by the fact that the blood was sprinkled on it), and acting as a king-priest, offered his own burnt offering, meal offering, drink offering, and blood of the peace offerings. For these types of offerings see Leviticus 1-7. But they should only have been offered by ‘sons of Aaron’. By this he was committing both himself and Judah fully to worship at the new foreign altar. And however the rest of the Jews viewed the situation, in his own eyes he was making his offerings to foreign gods (2 Chronicles 28:23). This was indeed the very purpose of the new altar, and the reason for its existence. Ahaz was not just ‘modernising’ the Temple, he was bastardising it. Against all God’s commands he had introduced an altar made of hewn stone, one that was approached by steps up to the altar. (See Exodus 20:25-26).

The burnt offering was the offering which was wholly consumed by the fire and offered to God. The meal offering was the offering of the gifts of creation. The drink offering was in respect of the libations of wine offered at the altar. The peace offerings were those offerings which were partly partaken of by the people.

2 Kings 16:14

‘And the bronze altar, which was before YHWH, he brought from the forefront of the house, from between his altar and the house of YHWH, and put it on the north side of his altar.’

The true altar of YHWH, ‘the bronze altar which was before YHWH’ (and was acknowledged by Him) he had removed from its central position and put on the north side of the new foreign altar. Notice the confirmation of the fact that this was recorded by eyewitnesses, something made evident by the unusual temporary situation of having two altars. It is clear from this that Ahaz had sent his instructions about the building of a new altar, instructions which had been faithfully carried out, but he had failed to give instructions concerning what was to happen to the old altar. So Urijah had accordingly built the new altar behind the current bronze altar of YHWH, and it was not until the king returned that the bronze altar’s future could be determined. For only the king could sanction the removal of the bronze altar.

2 Kings 16:15

‘And king Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, “On the great altar burn the morning burnt-offering, and the evening meal-offering, and the king’s burnt-offering, and his meal-offering, with the burnt-offering of all the people of the land, and their meal-offering, and their drink-offerings, and sprinkle on it all the blood of the burnt-offering, and all the blood of the sacrifice.’

From now on all of Judah’s recognised offerings had to be offered on the new altar. In effect these offerings now served a multiple purpose. Offered by the authorised priests of YHWH they could be seen as offerings to YHWH, but as offered on the foreign altar they would also be offerings to the gods of Assyria and Aram, and this was especially so when they were offered by the king-priest himself. The offerings included the morning and evening offerings which were offered every day on behalf of God’s people (Exodus 29:38-43; Numbers 28:2-8; mentioned also in 2 Kings 3:20; 1 Kings 18:29), the king’s special burnt offering and meal offering, and the burnt offerings, meal offerings and other sacrifices offered on behalf of the people (see Leviticus 1-7). All were being bastardised.

Note how the author records it without comment, but we need not doubt that he did it with gritted teeth. As we have seen before he regularly records things without comment and expects us to recognise their significance. The same is true here.

2 Kings 16:15

‘And the bronze altar will be for me to enquire by.’

The biggest insult to YHWH of all was that the bronze altar on which so many offerings had been made to YHWH, was trivialised by being turned into a private altar which Ahaz could use for the purposes of divination, probably by means of the examination of the entrails of the animal sacrifices.

2 Kings 16:16

‘Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that king Ahaz commanded.’

We can almost hear the scandalised note in the author’s voice as he explains that the High Priest made no objection to all this, but carried out all the instructions of Ahaz. He did not seek to defend the purity of Yahwism in any way. He took the way of compromise. Such was the situation in Yahwism at that time. (And this would be in the face of Isaiah’s protests).

2 Kings 16:17

‘And king Ahaz cut off the panels of the bases, and removed the laver from off them, and took down the sea from off the bronze oxen which were under it, and put it on a pavement of stone.’

Furthermore Ahaz removed all the symbols which emphasised the independence of the Jews and the significance of God’s people. He cut off the panels on the bases of the lavers which were decorated with lions, oxen and cherubim, representing the heavenly connection of God’s people with YHWH, and removed the twelve oxen which held up the moulten sea, which represented the twelve tribes and their princes.

There may also have been in this an attempt to obtain as much valuable metal as possible in view of the need to pay tribute, but that is not what the context is all about, and it is not consistent with the fact that the bronze bulls were still in existence in Jeremiah 52:20. Thus it would appear that the bronze bulls were put in storage (and possibly reinstated by Hezekiah). The context is stressing the stripping away from the Temple of all that was distinctively connected with the religious position of Judah, and that is what the author is seeking to emphasise.

2 Kings 16:18

‘And the covered way for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king’s entry outside, he turned to the house of YHWH, because of the king of Assyria.’

The final alteration was the closing of the private access of the king to the Temple. It was no longer the king’s chapel. It was under the control of the king of Assyria. The outside entry from the palace, and the covered way in the Temple by which the king approached the altar area each Sabbath, were both closed in recognition of the overall lordship of the king of Assyria. ‘He turned to the house of YHWH.’ That is he made them totally independent of the palace complex and made the house of YHWH self-contained.


Verse 19-20

Ahaz’s Reign Comes To An End (2 Kings 16:19-20).

2 Kings 16:19

‘Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz which he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’

The passage commenced with a description of Ahaz’s apostasy and it now closes with the usual suggestion that if we want to know more about his acts we consult the official annals of the kings of Judah (not in fact available to us).

2 Kings 16:20

‘And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David, and Hezekiah his son reigned instead of him.’

Ahaz ‘slept with his fathers’, that is, he died. (Even an assassinated king ‘slept with his fathers’). And he was buried with them in the city of David. It is pointedly not said that he was buried in the tomb of the kings. He was an outcast.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 16:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-kings-16.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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